Graduate author lived on his own terms
Writer worked odd jobs, travelled
The 1967 film The Graduate was a generational touchstone, launching the career of Dustin Hoffman, earning director Mike Nichols an Oscar and turning a character’s one-word career advice — “plastics” — into a punchline.
Based on a novel by Charles Webb, it made more than US$100 million from its story of a disaffected college graduate (Hoffman) who is seduced by a married woman (Anne Bancroft) and falls in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross).
Webb distanced himself from it. He and his wife, Eve Rudd, gave away most of their possessions and moved between campgrounds, trailer parks, nudist colonies and a Motel 6 before settling in England.
He was 81 when he died there June 16, more than a decade after publishing Home School, a sequel to The Graduate that helped him pay some debts and avoid eviction.
Webb was 24 when The Graduate was published in 1963. His character’s affair with an older woman was not autobiographical.
“My father had couples over to the house to play bridge,” he said in 2005. “At the sight of (one of the women) my fantasy life became supercharged.”
Screenwriter Buck Henry wrote in the “plastics” line while retaining much of the novel’s dialogue. (“Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me. … Aren’t you?”)
Webb sold the movie rights for US$20,000 and never shared in film or stage proceeds. He donated the copyright and sold or donated other possessions, including art by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, a home in the Berkshires and one outside New York City.
For a time, he and his family lived in a ’68 Volkswagen bus, criss-crossing the country. They homeschooled their children and, although they divorced — in protest of the institution of marriage — remained together, supporting themselves by cleaning houses, picking fruit, clerking at Kmart and presiding over a nudist camp.
Webb continued writing even while going 19 years without publishing.
Charles Richard Webb was born June 9, 1939.
Two other Webb novels were made into movies: The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1970) and New Cardiff (2001) became Hope Springs.